Tuesday, August 29, 2023

It’s Tuesday, August 29, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Is a Sperm Donor a Father? Wall Street Journal Raises Big Questions, Reveals Even Deeper Longing Within the Imago Dei

Sometimes, something appears in our national conversation and Christians just have the instinct that we have to think differently about this than the rest of the world thinks. Sometimes, this kind of issue erupts on the front pages of a major newspaper. Sometimes, you hear it in a conversation in the grocery store. These kinds of issues can emerge in different contexts, but yesterday, it exploded on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. What’s important about this story is not so much what’s in it, but what isn’t in it. The headline simply declares something that most human beings throughout most of human history wouldn’t have understood, “A sperm donor’s quest to see kids.” The subheading of the article, “Man chases a role in the lives of the 96 children he fathered.”

Before we go any further, just look at what we face here. We’re facing at a man who is described in this article as the father of 96 children. But by definition, the oddity in the story is that he knows any of them because he is identified in the headline as a sperm donor, which means he has commodified what God has given us in creation to be fulfilled in the context of marriage. He has made it into a commodity, sold as a commercial product, and yet, there’s a lot more to this story than a commercial product. There’s a lot more to this story than a financial transaction. What you see in the story is a longing that only Christianity can explain and the Christian worldview can make clear. This is one of the most compelling media stories of recent days. Again, the headline, “A sperm donor’s quest to see kids. Man chases a role in the lives of the 96 children he fathered.”

Now, for many people, frankly, the number 96 might be the shocking thing because you’re talking about 96 children, and I’m using the word that is deployed in the headline here, fathered by this one man. But we also recognize the word father here is not being deployed in any meaningful sense as we would understand it from creation throughout human history. There’s something new here. There’s something new in the commodification of biology. There’s something new here in the modern assisted reproductive technologies. There’s something new here in a story like this. There’s something also very old here, which is the longing for a father to know his children. There’s something very old here in the structures of creation and creation order, making themselves visible, audible, incredibly apparent even in this kind of media report.

Amy Dockser Marcus is the reporter in the story and she tells us, “Dylan Stone Miller took a 9,000-mile road trip this summer to see some of his 96 children.” The man’s identified here. The man is Dylan Stone Miller. The story then tells us, “Emotionally, logistically, in all ways, it is complicated for the kids, their families, and for Stone Miller, a prolific 32-year-old,” I’ll just say, “reproductive donor.” His road trip, we are told, “is part of a larger odyssey to figure out how he fits in the lives of the boys and girls he fathered in absentia. It began three years ago, when he first saw a photo of one of his biological children, a toddler named Harper, who had his blue eyes and his sister’s blonde curls. He got tears, he recalled, and unexpected feelings of kinship.”

Now, after we consider how this story unfolds, this report proceeds in the Wall Street Journal, we’re going to come back to some very basic Christian worldview principles. Some of them have, in one way or another, basically been known by all Christians throughout time. Some of them are extensions of creation order we have to think about as we live in a modern world in which new technologies are making all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of tragedies altogether apparent. In the introduction to this report, we are told about this donor, Dylan Stone Miller, and we’re also told about his unexpected feelings of kinship. Just remind yourself, he has been selling his reproductive cells. That’s the whole point. He’s been selling them because during the time he was in college and needed money, he discovered, through his roommate, by the way, that every time he made a donation, he would be paid $100: real money for a college student. And it could take place over and over and over again.

Of course, the money added up, but so did the donated cells, and so did the opportunities to become, biologically, at least, by gamete donation at least, to become a father. According to this, there is documentation of 96 children.

Remember, the story begins not only with the donations, but with the fact that three years ago, this particular man first saw a photo of one of the biological children. “‘I think of her as my first child,’ Stone Miller said. He met Harper, this little girl, when she was three and decided he wanted to ‘foster relationships with as many of the children as possible.’ Amy Dockser Marcus then tells us, he quit his job as a software engineer and has funded his quest with savings. So far, Stone Miller has met 25 of his biological children because tracking progeny from a donor isn’t always reliable. ‘I will never know for sure how many children I have.'” Full stop there. Here’s an acknowledgement by this donor that even though the number 96 is used in this article, there’s actually no way he will ever know how many children he has actually fathered, at least in a biological sense.

The next paragraph is significant simply because it sets the stage for further discussion. The acknowledgement of the Wall Street Journal is this, “Stone Miller’s mission is itself an accident of birth springing from the unforeseen union of in vitro fertilization, the internet and low-cost DNA testing.”

There is so much here for us to consider as Christians. For one thing, we have to see that there is in this article not only reference to the technological revolutions in so-called reproductive technology, the use of donor cells, both male and female, in vitro fertilization. That classically referred to the fact that it began in a conversation about the union of those cells in a test tube. The test tube is in vitro or in glass. It still takes place in a laboratory setting, but the word test tube, it doesn’t really point to the test tube. It points to the procedure, and the procedure is one that is of concern to Christians at every single level. But let’s just look furthermore at why this article is being written.

This article is being written because this man, who is identified as the donor, who has at least 96 biological progeny, as identified by DNA evidence and other sources, the reality is the article is only about his longing and about the complications of the entire process. The longing this man has for some kind of relationship with his progeny, that itself tells us a lot about what it means to be made in God’s image and to have a natural–this is not an unnatural instinct. The process he’s been involved in is an unnatural process, but the longing is actually a testimony to creation itself. God made us in His image. He made us relational. And we can understand, it is absolutely right that a biological father would want to have a relationship with his biological children. That’s not wrong. That’s right.

But when you add these complications, and we’re going to be looking at those complications and worldview perspective, you all of a sudden create a disaster. In this case, the disaster is, this man has the longing to know his children. But that doesn’t mean that the persons raising his biological children have any intention of this donor having a relationship with those children. But then, again, it turns out that at least some do. But even in those cases, this article makes it clear. Remember, the story is that this man has been on a 9,000-mile journey to meet as many of his so-called children as possible. As the story unfolds, we’re told that Harper has a sister named Harlow, who is also one of Stone Miller’s so-called biological children. But what about the parents of these children? Those who are designated as parents?

“Some parents decided they wanted nothing to do with him. Those who have, welcomed him into their home, are trying to figure out his role. A biological father, a donor dad, a visitor, or a special friend? Neither parents nor Stone Miller are certain where to draw the line.” I think for many readers of the Wall Street Journal, the most interesting part of this article is where we’re not going to spend any time, and that’s in the deep confusion on the parts of many people as to where they should draw boundaries between this donor and the children who are at least his biological progeny. That is not uninteresting. It just points fundamentally to the longing of a child to know a biological parent and of the biological parent to know his or her child. That is natural. To deny that, to confuse that is unnatural. But let’s look at the larger picture from a Christian worldview. Let’s back off for a moment.

The Christian worldview reminds us to take everything back to its most fundamental level. If you are talking about parent and child, parents and children, the most fundamental level is what is revealed in creation. God made human beings in His image as male and female. He created the institution of marriage. He also gave the man and the woman an order to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. From the very beginning of creation order, there is not only an attention given to marriage, there is a centrality given to marriage. There is a givenness given to marriage that involves the very reason that God made us as male and female. And there is a command here, given by God, to the married couple; to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth. Now, of course, after creation, the next major chapter in biblical theology is the Fall, which is where things get messed up. But remember, the Christian biblical understanding of the Fall is not that what’s revealed in creation order becomes less important. No. In a sinful world, what’s revealed in creation order becomes far more important, not by any means less important.

Now, this story is just so important we’re going to have to use some vocabulary that might be helpful for us all just to think through this. As we’re thinking about what is ontological or real, and we understand that marriage and human reproduction, they are ontologically grounded, according to Scripture, in God’s creation of human beings as male and female, given marriage. And the man and the woman are given responsibility to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But that also is made clear in Scripture as coming with a relational component. That’s so clear that by the time you get to the giving of the law, honor your father and your mother, children obey your parents in the larger biblical testimony, becomes absolutely clear. Honoring mother and father, by the way, does include obeying, but it actually means far more than that. But after the Fall, there are some other words we need to use about human experience, and this takes a bit of thinking. But trust me, you’re up to this. It’s important.

Part II

Violation, Alienation, Abstraction, Moral Risk, and the Unalloyed Good of Babies: The Issues of the Modern Reproductive Assistance Industry

Number one, you have violation. Violation means that, well, you figured this out, it’s violating a command. It’s violating a law. It’s violating something that’s clearly revealed in Scripture. The world around us is full of those violations. And quite frankly, the world around us is, right now, involved in a conspiracy to call them something other than violations. Nonetheless, violation is not the only way that creation order is messed up. One of the other ways we mess up creation order in God’s plan is through alienation. And by alienation, it means that we bring something artificial into the situation. We take something out of its given context. We alienate it from creation order, and then what God created to be good can be far less good than God created it. Even what God created to be good can actually be used for evil. Now, you take all that together. What does it mean?

It means for Christians, we understand that there is not only nothing wrong with a married couple, with a married man and a married woman coming together in the marital relationship and out of that coming a child, there is not only nothing there that is wrong, there is everything there that is right. And thus, there’s no alienation. Alienation can happen in various ways. It can happen if there is some other means that is attempted to bring about that child, other than the marital union of the man and the woman. When you’re talking about alienation, and just hang with me here, when you’re talking about it, you recognize there are different degrees of alienation, just as there are different degrees of violation. When you’re talking about alienation, the point is this; the further you get from God’s plan, the more moral risk you necessarily involve. The further you alienate anything from God’s intention, and even from grounding in creation, the more likely you’re going to mess this up. And rather than good coming out of it, something that’s not so good’s going to come out of it.

There is another Christian worldview principle, moral principle that’s very involved here, and that is the indivisibility of the goods. Which is to say, just bluntly, God did not intend for us to separate the process of having a child from the institution and covenant of marriage. That’s something God put together. And as you know, from countless wedding ceremonies, the Christian worldview is, what God has put together, let no man tear asunder. Frankly, in this world, I can’t think of anything that demonstrates the confusion and, frankly, the sinfulness of our age more than the difficulties that are involved in something like what we’re talking about today. Because you really are looking at a human problem here. It’s described in this as something that’s inevitable with modern technology, but this is where Christians have to say, where our problem is, actually with that modern technology. Let’s think about it for a moment.

When you think about alienation, here’s the thing, as I say. A man and a woman coming together in marriage, coming together in the marital union and having a child. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, there’s everything good about that. Let’s just say there might be a technology that would allow, as IVF technology allows, the husband’s cells and the wife’s cells to be combined not within the context of the marital union as an act, but rather in a laboratory context in order to achieve some kind of reproductive success that wasn’t coming by means of the marital union. Is that morally wrong? Well, there are some Christians who would say right up front, “There’s nothing wrong with that at all. What’s the problem? Why are we even talking about this?” There are other Christians who would say, “That is absolutely wrong and is a violation of God’s order.”

My argument is, it’s, first of all, an extremely risky proposition. I’m not saying that in every case it is wrong. I am saying that it does bring moral risk into the entire situation in a way that a husband or wife coming together otherwise would not. Well, just understand that is a further step of alienation or abstraction. You’re moving further away from what was given to us in creation. And what’s most important in this situation, you’re bringing someone into the relationship who isn’t the husband or the wife. When you add donor cells, you’re adding not only new biological material, you’re adding also very urgent moral risk. But let’s just understand where the modern reproductive technologies are not only pointing us, but are actually very urgently involved right now. Let’s say that you actually have some concern with pregnancy, or let’s just say that in some cases, pregnancy wouldn’t be convenient. In some cases, perhaps, even not possible, so you say, “Let’s have a surrogate mother.” Well, that’s a further abstraction you add–now, we have not only donor cells, we have a rented womb.

What we found out, by the way, in the beginning of the Ukraine war, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revealed the fact that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of women in Ukraine, who were making their living by serving as surrogate mothers for Americans seeking babies. Now, there’s an international global trade in surrogate parenting. But then, what if you could buy both cells and then you could rent a surrogate-mother services in such a way that neither party is involved? But then, you understand something else is made very clear in this Wall Street Journal article. It isn’t the main purpose of the article, but it is there, crying out for attention. There is an acknowledgement in this article that the entire industry in the United States is now not so much directed towards married men and women at all, but towards, well, predominantly lesbian couples and single women.

Now, the alienation or the abstraction takes a very ominous circle. It now comes back and says, “Look, not only can we use cells outside of the marital act, let’s just avoid marriage.” Or in this case, “Let’s just avoid needing a father and a mother.” Let’s just take this out of the context of marriage altogether, and let’s say, “We just have a Wild, Wild West of reproductive technologies in which there are basically no rules, but there is a lot of money to be made.” That’s the one thing the Wall Street Journal really doesn’t give much attention to, and that is the fact. This is not an assisted reproductive service, this is an assisted reproductive industry. But Christians understand the longing that is reflected here, so let’s just look at it at that level; the longing, the longing of this donor to know the children that he now simply can’t ignore are children. He looks into their faces, he sees himself and he sees his sister. He understands there is something real there.

At the same time, he is not functioning as their father and he is not welcome in their lives as father. Well, the Wall Street Journal article says it, he’s not sure who he is. Is he just a biological donor? Is he a family friend? What is he? That is evidence of the confusion of our age that you’d find on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, an article that raises so many issues coming out of this one single context. Again, we’re talking about one man, at least 96 children. Massive, endless moral worldview concerns for Christians to think about this. All this points to the sanctity of marriage. All of this points to why Christians have to give far more attention in this age to creation order and what it means to follow the Scripture, and to understand that even though you’re not going to find modern assisted reproductive technologies in the Bible, what you are going to find in the Bible is everything we need to know what God’s plan is, and where you are to have the birth of children and in what context and where you are not.

In the modern age of personal autonomy and self-expression, the modern age of commodifying everything, putting a price upon everything, including reproductive cells, you have what has been described as the Wild, Wild West of modern reproductive technologies. In the United States, these issues are regulated far less than even what you would find in many modern European countries. We have set loose chaos. But there’s something else here that’s just of massive importance, and if this were to be left out, it would be a worldview disaster. We need to understand the Christian principle that even out of questionable, even out of tragic, even out of sinful, even out of wrong moral acts, you can have a baby, in this case, a child, and that child is an unalloyed good. 96 children here, identified as at least the 96 known from this one donor, every single one of them is made in God’s image. Every single one of them displays the glory of God.

But that also reminds us that this is a principle that Christians had to figure out, indeed, even before Christianity, God’s people had to figure out. When you are looking at, say, a child which is born outside the context of marriage, when the conception took place outside the context of marriage, that child is still an unalloyed moral good. That does not, however, justify whatever sin was the occasion that brought about the existence of the child. Christians have to be able to say two things at once. We cannot bless this technology and Christians should have grave reservations, at the very least, about using these technologies. But when it comes to the child or the children, they are welcomed with enthusiasm and without compromise.

I also want to go back and discuss this issue of greater and lesser moral risk. It is a Christian responsibility to be good stewards of that kind of moral risk.

There are times in which we are faced with difficult decisions, and there are Christian couples who desperately want a child, who are faced with very difficult decisions. I want to be clear that we’re not talking about the same thing in every circumstance. When we’re talking about surrogate mothers, we’re talking about a great deal of abstraction, a great deal of risk. When we are talking about the use of donor gametes, that’s a complication that I believe is not and should not be morally acceptable for Christians. When we’re talking about using the cells of a mother and a father who are united in marriage, the greatest moral risk in that case is that you might have a Christian couple that decides that they want to follow through with the use of in vitro fertilization, in vitro technology, modern reproductive technology related to using their own gametes.

But there has to be the acknowledgement right up front that there will be the likelihood that there will be, perhaps, more embryos produced by this process than at least some parents and at least some practitioners will want to transfer into the womb. At the very least, there needs to be right up front the determination that all of these embryos will be transferred to the womb. None of them will be treated like excess commodities.

Part III

Snowflake Adoptions and the Attempt to Restructure the Family: Christian Faithfulness in the Face of the New Age of the Modern Reproductive Movement

Furthermore, and I’m going to have to end on this issue as we consider this subject today, there are Christian couples who have adopted by so-called snowflake adoptions, embryos created in the context of modern assisted reproductive technologies. They’re in laboratories and they would otherwise simply be frozen for a very long duration and then eventually disposed of, or disposed of even more quickly.

If the question is asked, is it a good, just, and righteous thing for a Christian couple to adopt one of those embryos, those snowflake adoptions, I think the right answer to that is yes. And if you ask why, what would be the moral reasoning? It is this. In that case, those Christians would not be morally responsible for the circumstances that produced this embryo. They are taking responsibility, in an effort to try to be good stewards, of what is presented as an opportunity to rescue, in the sense, an embryo from what will be almost certain destruction. Now, that’s also different than a command given to Christians to be fruitful and multiply and go undertake a snowflake adoption. This is where we also have to come back to the fact that Christian moral reasoning is never meant to be the responsibility of a single, solitary isolated Christian on his or her own.

This reminds us of our desperate need for the body of Christ, for local congregations of Christians, under the authority of Christ and by the preaching of God’s word, coming into a consideration of these things together. But we also have to keep in mind that this particular issue raises something else that should be a very clear Christian concern, and that is that once you have a technology like this in service to a revolution in sexuality, gender, marriage, and all the rest, it becomes just in itself a powerful engine for destroying marriage as a norm, for destroying parenthood as a coherent category and understanding. And thus, when you look at this, you realize this story is not just about this one donor and those identified as his 96 known children. It’s about all of us and our entire society. This isn’t just about him, this is about all of us and what we are going to think of marriage and children as we enter this very dangerous, brave new age.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler.

For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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